Monday, August 29, 2011

Aisle Pick Up Something For Dinner

Aside from those rare days. …even rarer in the summer, when I go into some sort of cooking flurry, I really don’t need much food. Gone are the days of feeding 2 teenage boys (they're generally normal...unless I'm taking their picture), 17 of their nearest and dearest friends and a couple of neighbor kids thrown in for good measure. Also gone are the days of enough storage space to have one extra of almost everything in case of famine or plague. I buy my vegetables precisely when I need them at the daily market down the street, my bread at the patisserie, fresh daily also, and the tiny grocery around the corner suffices for anything else I might need (save Skippy Super Chunk).

But whenever a friend with a car heads out to one of the big supermarchés on the periphery of the city, I hitch a ride. I love to poke around, checking out what’s available, what’s prevalent, and what is non-existent. This sport is only fun when I have nowhere to be because the grocery store lines are un-flipping-believable. But that’s another article.

So here’s my rundown. The fruit and vegetable section is enormous. I mean, HUGE. And busy. I’ve never had to wait in line to get at the tomatoes before, but it’s happened to me here.  This section includes most things I’m familiar with although it’s really light on broccoli. Which is just fine with me. Don’t tell my kids but I’d probably be happy if I never had to eat broccoli again for the rest of my life. There is a higher preponderance of endive, shallots, leeks, fennel, and zucchini, a gazillion types of lettuce and various bean pods that mystify me. I mean, who really takes the time to shell these things, anyway?

The fresh milk section is about 2 feet wide and there is no such thing as a gallon of any of it. A pint is all you’re going to get…although you can buy the type of milk that will last, unrefrigerated, through a nuclear holocaust…but I am genetically incapable of buying it. People just don’t drink milk here. When I tell them I love a tall, cold glass of milk with a sandwich they come dangerously close to gagging.  I’m a little disappointed because one of the first phrases I learned on my Rosetta Stone French program…. actually the only one…was “the boy drinks milk”. I have NEVER been able to use that sentence; although I’m sure French boys drink milk…somewhere!

The proportions of the chip section….that enormous, colorful and caloric aisle in the U.S. is only a little  larger than the milk subdivision. Oh they’ve got salty snacks and some are REALLY nummy, but they obviously do not carry the importance in the French diet of…say….CHEESE.

The cheese aisle…now that’s another story! Do not get stuck here at 6 o’clock at night when you need to be somewhere in a hurry. You won’t get there. Trying to get through the mob is problem enough but making up your mind also takes time. Hard, soft, pasteurized or not, fresh or aged, goat, sheep or cow.  This thing goes on forever and doesn’t include the deli section of cheese (a small portion of it on the left), which also blows the mind for variety. The yogurt sector is the same. I don’t know what the French fascination is with yogurt, but they’ve got an entire aisle of it…. that and creamy pudding type desserts. So I shan’t worry about them. They’re getting their vitamin D.

Which brings me to the deli. There are sausages (some of which I just don’t even want to know their origins) a few salads, you can ask for sliced meats, sauces, cheeses and a few ready-made savory pies, pastas and roasted meats. But I want to point out there is not one, single, shuddering bowl of pink fluff or pistachio goo. Nor, have I seen a single clear plastic catering pan heaping with bright yellow, over-mayonaised potato salad. In fact, in spite of the fact that mayonnaise is French, I rarely see salads bound together with the stuff. Perhaps that’s different in the north…but this here is olive oil country, cowboy!

Chocolate also has an aisle of it’s own and I have been known to spend 20…okay, maybe more…minutes there examining my options. And don’t bother me while I’m pondering either!  It could get ugly. Chocolate chips are not included in the French penchant for the cocoa bean, however.

The wine aisle is not an aisle. It’s regional airport landing field. And it’s not one runway…. it’s three. It’s miles bigger than the beer section in a Wisconsin liquor department, which is saying something!  Local wines, wines from all the other regions of France, very little foreign wine, red, white, rose, dessert wines, wines for 75 euros and wines for 2 euros. Boxes of wines and cases of wines. Wines on special and wines for special occasions. This is just too much for me! While I may have a genetic inclination to drink real milk, I do not have that special, distinctly French gene that seems to just understand wine. Mind you, that doesn’t keep me away from this particular aisle. I look at it as research.

I haven’t even started on the meat aisle, but if I continue, this article will just be too long. So I won’t. That will be next week. As I sit here in the square, sipping a glass of red and eating a bowl of tapas, which in this case is a spicy, marinated version some of those mysterious, aforementioned beans, I’m thinking of what to make for dinner. I’ve got loads of fresh veggies given to me by a friend. Along with my string of garlic hanging from the ceiling and a bottle of olive oil and one of shallot vinegar, and a wedge of some variety of savoie cheese, I should be good. The Skippy is coming with friends in two weeks!



  1. Ah, the price you have to pay to live in such a place! LOL.

  2. I could not agree more, I love milk but it has to be fresh, it seems a rare commodity here in France! I dare not go near the cheese, deli, chocolate or wine sections my scales will break :-)) Diane

  3. You are right, I never understood why the French think that a 'petit yaourt' will solve all the problems.
    You made me laugh, and hungry. Now I will go and work on MY dinner!

  4. I love milk too. I'll have to warn my daughter before she heads over to Paris in 3 weeks! Drink up the milk now. Thanks for taking me shopping in France.

  5. Do you need some Hellmann's mayo with that Skippy ?
    How are you doing in the Metamucil dept ??
    Can't wait to see you !

  6. Now I know why I have never liked milk, it must be that my genetic tree is 1/2 French! Thank you, I've always felt as though I had to be a closet milker hater, growing up in Wisconsin! (The only time I like a glass of milk is to dunk my oreos.) Your Skippy is waiting to be put in my suitcase next week.. I didn't know it came in 4 pound jars!!

  7. Yummy - bon apetite! Love Jeanmarie's comment.

  8. Don't forget the water aisle. Our Carrefour has an entire aisle just for water, with or without bubbles. It's crazy really. Things to get used to when moving to France (or for the French when moving to the US/Canada).

  9. I fell in love with the yogurt aisle at the Super U in Apt: it was a life-transforming experience, I think. And then, to come back here and see the what...two brands...of "lite" yogurts at Stop & Shop. Something is just not right!

  10. Water water everywhere...and not a drop of steak sauce! Bagels would be nice too...

  11. Rosaria-I's a hell of a price, eh?

    Diane- You have more discipline than I. I now have a scale but I've sort of forgotten about it. It's the seams in my skirts that are starting to feel the strain, however.

    Blandina-Do you suppose the yogurt counters the effects of wine and cheese. If so, I'm going to spend more time in that aisle.

    Paulita- Oh she's going to Paris? How wonderful. How long will she be there. Just wait for next week's installment. You might not be thanking me!

    Vickles-speaking of oreos, I just bought a little pack today. Oh num. But I had to dunk them in my coffee....just not the same.

    Jeanmarie- Hell no...the mayo is far better here! As far as metamucil...isn't that your thing?

    Holly-The way things are going, however, Jeanmarie might have to bring the metamucil. UGH!

    Tanya-ah yes, the water aisle. I forgot about that. I'm a plain tap water gal myself, but I do remember when a 3 year old I was babysitting, declared complete disgust when she saw me drinking out of the tap. She said it was degeulasse!

    Julie-We've got a bagle shop in Aix. But they're not boiled...they're baked. Why bother!! Do you want steak sauce? I've got some "food mules" coming over in a few weeks!

  12. My eldest son likes fresh milk. I have to buy 5 litres of it every week for him and he drinks it straight from the container thus ensuring no one else gets their hands on it!

    I recently discovered you can get buttermilk here, in the fresh milk section, in a carton called Laban.

    I remember when I went to live in Texas for a year and was amazed at how little yoghurt there was in the supermarket.

  13. I miss the cheese...I miss the cheese...

    But I can buy milk straight from the cow from the lady up the road and make my own yogurt....

    Carry on with the research in the wine department...all in the interests of science, of course...

  14. Oh my - I would love that cheese aisle - even if I got stuck there for ages - even better!!
    I just love St Agur that creamy blue vein French cheese that is almost impossible to afford here in Australia - Do you have a favourite cheese Delana?
    I would be like you and buy from the loal artisans.

  15. I can just picture that landing field filled with goodies. Even though we live in Switzerland, we still shop across the border in France, so that my Frenchman can buy all his favorites...including his special wine, yogurt & cheese.

  16. Oh yummy - fresh chewy French bread, tangy aromatic cheese, aisles of wine, fine dark chocolate! Those are the words I learned first in French. Milk? Not me. A pint would last a long time in the fridge of 'only me'. I might miss popcorn though. I sort of have a sick obsession with the fluffy, buttery, salty stuff.


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